Business & Technology

Tomato concentrate

Time to slice up the tomato industry?

What happens when a few large buyers dominate a market? Anyone who keeps up with my posts — still there, mom? — knows what’s coming next: The buyers gain the power to dictate to dictate terms and conditions to sellers. For farmers, the results of concentrated markets are devastating. As a few giant companies like Smithfield and Tyson came to dominate meat packing, they managed to drive down the farmgate price of chickens, pigs, and beef cows. As a result, hundreds of thousands of farmers were driven out of business. Survivors took on debt and scaled up, in a desperate …


What should be done with the empty big box?

Last month, Circuit City announced that it would close 155 of its stores, most of them big boxes: those 50,000- to almost 300,000-square-foot warehouse-like structures, often built far from city centers. By one estimate, there are almost 3,000 vacant big boxes littering the American landscape, with more to come as major retailers falter. Makes Wal-Mart’s logo, that “Always” emblazoned on their façades, seem ironic: what’s really permanent is the big box as retail grave. The environmental impacts of big box stores are well documented — among other things, they consume green space, encourage driving, and soak up public funds. But …

One in three toys tested has worrisome levels of toxic chemicals, group says

A study of some 1,500 popular children’s toys sold in the United States found that one in three tested contained “medium” to “high” levels of a range of toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead, mercury, and others, according to green group the Ecology Center. “Our hope is that by empowering consumers with this information, manufacturers and lawmakers will feel the pressure to start phasing out the most harmful substances immediately, and to change the nation’s laws to protect children from highly toxic chemicals,” said EC’s Jeff Gearhart.

You can call a rip-offset a CDM project, but it's still a rip-offset

U.N. climate change body has suspended clean energy auditor DNV

Like landfills, oil sands, and “occasional irregularity,” the term Clean Development Mechanism is in the euphemism Hall of Fame. But once a rip-offset, always a rip-offset. Reuters reports: The U.N. climate change body has suspended one of the largest auditors of clean energy projects under Kyoto Protocol, a move highlighting problems long aired by critics of the climate pact’s greenhouse gas trading scheme. Norway’s DNV had their accreditation as project auditors suspended late last week for five “non-conformities” relating to its practices, the U.N. said after performing a spot check of the company’s operations in early November. Speaking of euphemisms, …

Media eats crow

Green tech is still selling

I have been quite critical of the mainstream media for using the global recession to attack clean tech. One reason the storyline was lame is that a recession this deep is going to hit all new capital projects. A second reason is that there had been no evidence that clean tech was being harder hit than any other sector and some reason to believe it would be hit less hard. And, of course, the election of a Barack Obama means there is going to be a massive infusion of funding for clean tech. While it is premature to say that …

Conspiracy theory or economic theory?

Is cheap gas OPEC’s way of robbing Obama of his clean energy initiative?

Why have gas prices dropped so low, so quickly, and so soon after endless proclamations of a future of $200/barrel oil? The New York Times thinks that it has something to do with a drop in demand and a lack of unity amongst OPEC member-states. My friend Gregorio has no time or such naivete. According to him, the reason gas prices are so low is that OPEC is afraid that Obama might, you know, actually do something about jumpstarting a transition away from petroleum. Cheap gas is OPEC’s way of pre-preemptively sucking the wind out of Obama’s clean-energy sails. Discuss.

Bail big or bail home

As long as the feds are restructuring auto companies, why not drag them into the 21st century?

The New Republic has an interesting article up from two bona fide experts on the auto industry (who are not employed by the industry), contributing to a discussion where ideas have been plentiful but expertise lacking. They recommend a bailout road map that stops short of Chapter 11 but involves fairly substantial restructuring. Interesting reading, but I have nits to pick with this: The government could set one final set of goals, not so much to address a lingering failure but to advance an important social goal: fighting climate change. Each company seeking funds could commit itself to exceed, by …

I looked up 'redundant' in the dictionary and it said: 'see: redundant'

Better Place comes to Hawaii

Hawaii is now a Better Place.

Thorns and roses

The not-so-fragrant side of fresh-cut flowers

In conventional development dogma, the fresh-cut flower industry makes plenty of sense. Nations in the global south need foreign exchange and jobs; folks in the industrialized north have plenty of disposable income for buying pretty things. Moreover, land tends to be cheap in the south and dear in the north. Pursuing the promise of what economists call "comparative advantage," why not set up a vast fresh-cut flower industry in places like Ecuador, designed to supply markets in the United States? Of course, that is precisely what has happened. According to the trade group Society of American Florists, floriculture has blossomed …